The Thief of the Rose
Chapter 2

Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy

Aaron was awake and out of bed before the light knock on the door, signaling his wake-up call. Starting with his stretching and warm-up exercises, he began his normal routine of sword training and forms. It always seemed slightly off, even after adding the parrying dirk his master suggested. The weight of the dirk felt wrong, not enough to be a problem, just, not perfect. After cooling down, washing, and a light meal of cheese, fruit and mead, he was off.

Making his way to the middle city, Aaron stopped first at the temple of the Goddess of Light, to pay homage to his patron, which always amused him. The head cleric always kept an eye on him, as if he would ever try to steal from "HER". His relationship with Lady Rannath, Goddess of Light was definitely strange. Normally a thief or assassin would align themselves with one of the more dark deities available, but Aaron was definitely not normal, not that he picked "HER"; more like she marked him as hers.

"You chose to use that 'rod of light' to save my cleric," he heard in his head.

"It did not have to remove most of the flesh on my left arm either, but it did," he replied. "Now I have to wear this enchanted glove or my "GOOD" arm would have issues with my chosen line of work."

"You could always set that aside and become a true paladin, a Paladin of the Light," she retorted.

"I am what I chose. You knew that before you marked me as yours," he sighed. "I cannot change what I have become."

"Cannot or will not?" she asked. "Never mind, this gets us nowhere."

"I agree. You are my Lady," he declared, "and I am your sword, your servant. Bless me Lady and give me strength."

"Always, my paladin," she sighed, "always."

The cleric stood in awe as the brilliance that normally surrounded the kneeling man grew in intensity.

"My Lady, My Goddess," he proclaimed as he fell to his knees as well.

After dropping several gold pieces in the offering box Aaron left the temple with a renewed spring in his step. The feeling would eventually fade, but for now he reveled in it.

"What game are you playing at sister?" Malak, the God of Truth asked.

"It is impolite to eavesdrop, brother dear," Rannath replied. "What business is it of yours anyway, Malak?"

"He was banished and excommunicated," Malak declared.

"Not by me," Rannath responded.

"Rannath, he is a thing of the dark," Malak replied disgustedly. "How can you reconcile that?"

"I do not, and neither should you," Rannath accused. "He is not solely of the dark, and he is mine. He saved my cleric, and risked his life in the bargain."

"You sound as if you love him," Malak remarked. "You know that is forbidden."

"I do not love him that way. He is mortal," Rannath responded. "Now please leave me be." And she left.

"I do not think either of those two statements are true," Malak mused and left as well.

After leaving the temple Aaron went back down to the lower level, to the Guild Quarter and the headquarters of the Assassins' Guild, a rundown building with a nondescript door. A dagger on the door was the only clue as to the location. Aaron opened the door and stepped in to a small room with a desk and two doors behind it. Sitting at the desk, an older woman (read; hag) looked up from her knitting.

"What can I do for you sonny?" she asked.

Aaron slid a token onto her desk, but said nothing. Clearing her voice she nodded, picking up the token and examining it delicately and then returned it.

"The door to the left," she pointed.

Tokens were calling cards used by both the Thieves' and Assassins' Guilds to identify guild members. Each guild used its own design, unknown to the other guilds, identifying an individual of a particular discipline and rank within that discipline. Tokens also identified the local hall a member was affiliated with. That particular token identified Aaron as a 3rd level master assassin, adept with a blade, one of only a handful of very, very deadly individuals. The token also identified Aaron as belonging to no particular hall, since Aaron was a troubleshooter for the secret group that oversaw both guilds and therefor had no hall affiliation. Aaron opened the door and stepped through.

"Ahh, Master Aaron how good to see you," Guildmaster Darius greeted him. "To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?"

"This," Aaron responded, handing over the marker he took off the dead thief. "I want to know who was the mark and who took out the contract?"

"As a master in this guild I should not have to remind you that I cannot comment on the particulars of a contract with anyone other than the individual that accepted the contract," Darius countered.

"Fine, since the previous contractor is dead," Aaron smiled, "then I will accept the contract and fulfill it."

"Pardon me for asking," Darius asked, knowing that he needed to step lightly. "Do you have proof of the demise of the previous contractor?"

"But of course," Aaron replied, smile growing and tossing a severed hand on to the desk. "Will this do?"

"Um, yes," Darius replied. "It is all that is required. The contract was for 20 silver pieces to be paid on the proof of the departure of a Geoff Wheatstone, of the Merchants' Guild. It was a low threat level, hence the price and experience of the contractor."

"Will his head do as proof?" Aaron asked leaning forward.

"Why yes, yes of course," Darius replied. "I do not know who initiated the contract, the particulars of verifying and payments were done through a blind drop."

"Hmm, makes me think that the initiator wanted to remain anonymous," Aaron stated, pulling the head from the sack. "I am going to need to keep this, but this should be verification enough for the purposes of the contract."

"I will initiate contact and payment," Darius replied, "anything else?"

"No," replied Aaron, "good day." Aaron stood up nodded his head (men in their profession never shook, you never knew what might be in the hand you were shaking) and returned through the door, acknowledged the guard (for that is what she really was) and left.

With barely enough time to reach the palace and the council chambers, Aaron headed off. He was passed through the palace gates with no fuss and arrived in the anteroom just as the doors were being closed. The steward spotting Aaron held the doors for him.

"So nice of you to join us, Lord Aaron," Lord Colin Beadle proclaimed. "I was afraid we would have to start without you."

"Never be afraid where I am concerned, Lord Colin," Aaron responded. "I will always be where I am supposed to."

"Well, yes, very good," Colin replied, "let us get down to business."

The Guild Council was made up of the heads of the major guilds in Aithen; merchant, fighter/guardsman, weapons/armor, magic/sorcery, craft, bard. The neutral Guilds, thief and assassin were not part of the policy making of the Council but still played an important role in the day-to-day operation of the Council's interests. If money and enterprise were involved, the Guild Council was interested. The Council also interacted with the other guildhalls of the Five Realms.

Each Guildmaster held a spot on the Council, with an election for Council head. The head of the Council was required to give up his guild's interest and nominate a replacement to his chair. The Council head oversaw the Council's actions and directions and reported to the King who also had a spot on the council, usually filled by the Chamberlain. Lord Colin Beadle, was the current Council head.

"Lord Aaron, I trust that your return means the thievery has come to an end?" Lord Colin asked.

"I object milord," interrupted Briard, head of the Thieves. "My Guild is in no way affiliated with the recent loss of coin and property."

"A poor choice of words, Master Briard," Lord Colin smirked. "My apologies."

"Well, to answer your question Lore Colin, yes and no. I have removed the immediate threat to the trains, but I believe that there is more going on than a little robbery," Aaron explained. "I had initially thought that Master Wheatstone was involved with the passing of information, but recent information makes me rethink his involvement."

There is more of this chapter...

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